Faith Matters: 1 or 146,000 — They all matter

  • The Rev. Randy Calvo sits with a peace lily at the First Congregational Church of Sunderland. Paul Franz

  • The Rev. Randy Calvo sits with a peace lily at the First Congregational Church of Sunderland. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The First Congregational Church of Sunderland was built in 1836. Paul Franz

  • The First Congregational Church of Sunderland was built in 1836. Paul Franz

Pastor, First Congregational Church of Sunderland
Published: 8/5/2022 5:33:05 PM
Modified: 8/5/2022 5:29:58 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com)

I have endured many a shlocky life-of-Jesus movie at church events. They love Legion. Jesus travels across the Sea of Galilee to “the country of the Gerasenes.” (Luke 8:26) Immediately, he is accosted by a troubled and violent person who seems more afraid of others than others should be of him. To heal the man, Jesus commands the expulsion of an unclean spirit. Instead, the spirit barters with Jesus. When Jesus asks the spirit’s name, the movie shlock goes into overdrive and there is this melodramatic sound effect when the spirit responds, “‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him.” (8:30)

There are many an exegetical interpretation of what follows, but Legion is banished to a herd of pigs, the herd grows wild, rushes down a steep bank, and all are drowned in the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Those who witness this hurry to tell others and soon a crowd gathers around Jesus.

The crowds see the one Jesus had healed, but they also see the carcasses of the pigs floating in the water. The healed man had been of no real consequence to them, he existed on the fringe of their community, he was unseen or overlooked, but the pigs were money. The crowds saw the healing and the dead pigs, and they chose the pigs. The healing of someone who did not matter — did not matter. The pigs were money — they did matter. And the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave.

The shlocky movies love to play-up Legion, not the crowds. Legion was supernatural; the crowds were all too natural. Legion could only be overcome by Jesus. It was a victory to be watched, not entered into. The scary voice let us off the hook. What could we do?

The crowds, though, speak to us and ask what we care about. They are scarier than the scary voice because the crowd’s evil is our possible evil. The once broken man had been and still was inconsequential to them. This is the message that should engage us. This is the revelation that all people matter to God. Do they to us?

The pictures released recently by the James Webb Space Telescope show the awesome vastness of space and time: 13 billion light years away and 13 billion years into the past. I cannot process these numbers. At the Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, N.Y., at a 1:5 billion scale, it is a ¾-mile walk from sun to Pluto; but the nearest star, which is only 4 light years from Earth, is nearly 5,000 miles away at the University of Hawaii’s Hilo Campus. This vastness doesn’t make us insignificant. It speaks to the extraordinary miracle of human life. If a most primitive bacteria were to be found anywhere but here, it would be front page Recorder news.

Jesus’ encounter with the Garasenes speaks in its own way to this staggering value of life down to those who are overlooked, ignored, disparaged, threatened. Our moral choice is to follow Jesus’ example or to follow the example of the crowds who asked Jesus to leave.

Today is the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, where up to 146,000 persons died. At that time, J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted Hindu scripture: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This broaches the question of priorities raised in the Garasenes story. Life in the universe is exceptional. Life to a person of faith is sacred. The point of the Garasenes story is not the scary voice, but the scary reality of what we are capable of when we ignore Jesus’ lesson that, 1 or 146,000, everyone is valued by God, and therefore should be by us.

Legion is a distraction. Our choices are what matter. On this anniversary, we have more to fear in the evil we can choose to unleash than in Legion. Let’s choose to ban nuclear weapons worldwide.

About the church

The First Congregational Church of Sunderland, United Church of Christ, has ministered to our local communities since 1717. Sunday services begin at 11 a.m. The church’s website and Facebook page are found under First Congregational Church of Sunderland. The church’s phone number is 413-665-7987. If you wish to reach the Rev. Randy Calvo, email him at randyc1897@gmail.com. We offer religious education for the youth and Bible study for adults. Anthony Tracia directs the music program, and we have a bell choir. We are an official “Open and Affirming” congregation so when we say, “All are welcome here,” we mean it.


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